Episode 161: AA History with Bob K

This episode features a conversation with Bob K., author of Key Players in AA History. We discuss AA co-founder Bill W., the first women in AA, and some of the common misunderstanding’s of the AA founding mythology. We also took calls from listeners who asked questions about the Steps, inconsistencies in the Big Book, and sponsorship.

Every Friday night at 7:00 PM Central, Angela and John host a live stream on the AA Beyond Belief YouTube Channel. Each week, we discuss a topic and take questions from the chatroom in YouTube and from callers to our toll-number.


0:00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.


0:00:25 John: Hello and welcome to another weekly Friday sober distancing episode of AA Beyond Belief. I’m John and I am here with my co-host, Angela. How you doing Angela?

0:00:36 Angela: I’m good, thanks for asking.

0:00:38 John: It’s nice to see you. Nice to hear you.

0:00:39 Angela: You too. [chuckle]

0:00:43 John: And we have a special guest today. His name is Bob K. He is from Whitby, Ontario, which is located in the nation state of Canada, which is some place up north of here. [chuckle] Anyway, he is the co-founder of the Whitby Freethinkers group, and he is the author of Free…

0:01:05 Angela: Key Players in the AA History.

0:01:05 John: Yes, Key Players in the AA History. And anyway, he’s a good friend and I’m glad to have him here. We thought that we could talk a little bit about AA history, and take your questions. You can call in. I’ll type the number in, in the chat room. But that number is 844-899-8278. So Bob, how are you?

0:01:29 Bob: I’m as well as can be expected under these very strange conditions. I’m staying safe and behaving fairly smartly. But I’m not a good isolator, so I get out in the car and go for drives and stuff, and I get around a bit.

0:01:49 John: AA history. This period of time that we’re in right now will be AA history, what we’re going through now. And AA will come out a little bit different probably, I think, as a result of it, so…

0:02:03 Bob: I think that’s inevitable. This Zoom stuff, it’s fabulous that we have it. Otherwise, we’d just be phoning each other and not phoning each other. And it’s a pretty good substitution. And I think there’ll be a lot of Zoom in the normal world after, because of the convenience of midnight and whatever, and I can do AA whenever I want and I don’t have to leave the house even.

0:02:29 Angela: Yeah, and we have a lot of, well, not a lot, but we have people joining our meeting, our Zoom meeting in Boise from the East Coast and from the South and all over the place, Cleveland and stuff. And so we’re keeping one of our meetings going in Zoom after we’re able to meet face-to-face again, because we’ve made friends and we have people that enjoy our meeting now.

0:02:58 John: Yeah, we actually have, or probably are going to to do something like that, too. We have somebody from one of our meetings. He wants to have a hybrid, where we have the Zoom and the live meeting at the same time. He wants to do that after this whole epidemic thing is done. I said, “Well, if that’s what you guys want to do, then you can vote on that. That’s fine.” But… So Bob, let’s talk about AA history, and maybe what would be nice is if we let you talk about a few topics that you’re interested in, that you have been thinking about, and then we can… I know Angela has some questions for you that she has had some friends ask about.

0:03:38 Angela: Ooh, pick me, pick me, yeah.

0:03:40 John: And then we’ve got about 21 people right now in the chat room, who can ask questions through the YouTube chat. And you can also call in at our toll-free number. So Bob, you’ve got the floor.

0:03:52 Bob: Okay, so I’ve been saying for a long time that, for secularists especially, AA history is good for us, because in so many cases it destroys the myths that are being propagated by fundamentalists and Big Book thumpers. And I love the recent Bill Schaberg book called Writing the Big Book. It’s so fabulous. He did stuff that I didn’t do. Go to archives and read letters and Lois’ diary. And he focused 10 years of research on really, primarily on the 18-month period the Big Book was produced. So there is a lot of mythology about that and it kind of gets blown up. I knew about some before. Here’s a real, here’s a classic example. Bill’s story. Ebby is in the hospital and supposedly takes him through some Oxford Group, Christian mumbo jumbo. Somehow that ends up being written as the 12 steps, for some people see 12 steps in there, existing four years before Bill Wilson sat down and wrote them.

0:05:14 Bob: But, so I found out about 10 years ago, Bill’s story, as we see it in the book, is the third draft of that story. And I was directed to a website, which is actually a bunch of crazed fundies in Indianapolis. But the guy that runs it is a real history guy, has the most brilliant pictures and that. So he had copies of the first two drafts of Bill’s story. And the spiritual experience takes place in his house after Ebby leaves. So Ebby comes at the end of November, gives Bill the religious pitch. Bill’s drunk, Ebby leaves, so he starts thinking about his grandfather’s spiritual experience, lets his imagination run wild and think something happened in the kitchen. Well, there’s a couple of problems with that story. It’s not the result of these steps that produced it, because he hadn’t done those at all. And the second thing, it didn’t make him stop drinking because he drank two more weeks. So that’s just a… That’s a classic. And the fundies will get in your face if you don’t do this, that, that, that and the other thing. And a lot of this stuff just doesn’t hold up. You know what I’m like, I could blast you 90 minutes on all that stuff, but that’s a classic.

0:06:44 John: Yeah, and I’ve read a little bit about that too. That just the whole setup of that conversation in the kitchen didn’t go down exactly the way that it’s written in The Big Book, that Ebby and Bill both had different versions of it. Of how it actually went down.

0:07:00 Bob: Well, yeah. And use your imagination. Who would you believe? The sober guy, or the guy that was drunk? And the guy that was drunk… Like Schaberg, come out in the first chapter hard hitting, with Bill the myth-maker, the history of being a storyteller. In some of the other biographies… Matthew Raphael, a book you were interested in. Yeah, so I read that years ago and I’ve quoted it a few times. It says, “Bill was a masterful storyteller, just like his father.” So his father was this popular bar drinker guy, that he could sing, he could tell stories, a handsome guy, attractive to women not his wife. So there’s where some of that comes from. If your father’s a player, the psychologists tell us your admired father is going to get imitated, so.

0:08:00 John: So it’s like… I haven’t read Schaberg’s book. I’ve had ever since it came out, and just haven’t gotten to read it. It’s a gigantic book, and it’s amazing that that huge giant book is about just a small period of time in AA history. So there’s gotta be a lot of information in there. But from what I read about, from some comments that people have made. It’s like people thinking that Bill was a liar basically, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. It’s more that he was a storyteller, that maybe what he was saying, he believed to be true. You think that’s what was going on with him?

0:08:36 Bob: So, Schaberg is taking a lot of heat, and I’ve had some interaction with him in the course of… I kind of got a book review ready, right about… We released it at the time the book came out, so I had a PDF of the book in advance. And to be honest, I didn’t read the whole mammoth thing. I read most of it. I read the chapters that were really interesting, I skimmed some of the others. But he is not anti-Bill, this isn’t an Orange Paper’s book. Joe C. Interviewed him, and he said, “A lot of people are hearing about your book, and they’re objecting to you raking Bill over the coals.” So some of it was like Bill knew he was fabricating, he was doing a sales job. So, yeah. So Schaberg, he said, “Go read all of the letters. Go through the archives for 10 years, and if you come to a different conclusion, come back and tell us about it.”

0:09:44 John: Angela, you mentioned that you were talking to some people who had some questions that you wanted to throw at Bob?

0:09:49 Angela: Yeah, yeah. So the first question, and several people asked it. Was regarding the Lord’s Prayer. When did that start? Was it something that they were doing from the beginning? Or is it something that some people came up with? We mentioned a little bit last week, I think, about the Synanon cult that was in… What was it? The 90s? Or the 80s? In California. Did they start it, or… What’s the deal with the Lord’s Prayer, basically?

0:10:26 Bob: Okay. So, the earliest meetings, before there were really AA meetings. In Akron they went to these… These rich people kind of took in this Oxford Group, which was a first century religious Christian group. It was a Christian group, so they had a lot of praying at their meetings. And AA didn’t really exist independently until around the time of the book, and they… Well, New York parted from the Oxford group in 1937, but when the book was written the Ohio people were still going. So it was a Christian book, a Christian group, and they had lots of prayers. And what’s the granddaddy of Christian prayers? It’s the Lord’s Prayer. So they said the Lord’s Prayer in the Oxford Group. When they started AA they kept a lot of the practices, and that was one of them. And boy, AA members are on that one, they’re just so reluctant to change that. To me, it’s just so obviously wrong. And not that it’s a prayer, that we have affiliation, an alliance with Christians with that. How many tens of thousands of new people have come in, maybe listened to an interesting speaker, and then saw a Lord’s Prayer at the end. “Not… Okay, religious cult, I’m out of here.”

0:11:53 Angela: Right. Yeah, yeah. Definitely. Another thing that I wanted to ask you about was… And I guess most of my stuff was concentrating on Bill, because a lot of the people that are listening are newer to secular AA, and some of them still have to go to traditional meetings because they don’t have any secular meetings in their area. And so, when they want to express themselves, most people don’t care, or they don’t want to know about Jim Burwell. You know what I mean? Or that stuff, or Ebby, or that. But if you say, “Bill did this” or whatever, then they want to hear about that, because they might be able to talk to somebody in their meeting about it. So, I thought maybe talking about… About Bill’s depression, many people who come into AA have other things. Both John and I have talked about our issues with depression, as well as being in recovery. So that I thought would be a good topic. Also that transitions into his experiments with LDS… LDS, sorry. That’s a prominent religion around here. I don’t think he was a Latter-Day Saint. So I mean, his LSD experiments and then that’s also an interesting subject because right now psychedelics are making a comeback as a remedy to alcoholism and depression and to help people with fear who are in end stage cancer and stuff like that. So I thought those would be two things that would be interesting to people.

0:13:49 Angela: And then always people want to hear a little bit about his womanizing and stuff. And that’s particularly interesting right now, because a lot of us are realizing during this pandemic, how many other things that we have, that we transfer addictive tendencies to, like food or Netflix or whatever. We tend to go overboard on a lot of things, and so that’s becoming a little more prevalent to some of us, now that we are out of our normal routine. And so just hearing about those things as they apply to AA history was interesting to me.

0:14:29 Bob: Yeah, and they’re interesting things. And in the first place, Bill Wilson is a fascinating character. And Dr. Bob Smith, the Ohio guy isn’t. It starts with as simple as that. And Dr. Bob Smith, he didn’t want any attention. Bill Wilson was more like me, liked the spotlight and likes attention, likes to be answering questions and likes to talk about his passion, Alcoholics Anonymous. But the story of AA and the story of Bill Wilson, they’re just intertwined. It’s just hard to talk about one without getting into the other. And so Bill, as far as depression, first of all, his mother was a brilliant woman. Started as a school teacher, got married at about 25, got divorced at about 35, and came home and announced one day after the divorce was final. Well, two kids, Bill was about nine, his younger sister. Said, “I’m flunking you with grandpa and grandma”, her parents, “and I’m going to Boston to study to become a physician.” Which she did and became a specialist.

0:15:58 Bob: Clearly a smart woman, but she was neurotic. She had, what they called at the time, nervous breakdowns. She would go to bed for periods, long periods of a time. We understand that as depression today, they would have labeled it differently. And she was a hypochondriac. And Bill Wilson was every one of those things. He learned them or got some bad genetics from the mother’s DNA cocktail. So he… We can oversell the 12 Steps and especially in fundamentalist meetings, “Man, they fix everything.” And some people want people to not go to doctors and they want them to get off antidepressants and they want God to fix everything and just pray it will all be good and do this exactly as it was written in the Book and you will be fine. And why wasn’t Bill Wilson fine? He wasn’t close to being fine. He had periods of depression on and off. Long ones, serious ones, it was a tremendous battle. The LSD, LDS, I’ve got two psychology degrees from a fine university and you do not need those to know that that was a Freudian slip of some kind.


0:17:27 Bob: So AA got going and it got some publicity and it started to spread and it became known across America. They call it a national institution kind of after the Saturday Evening Post article. And AA grew and it had a real boom period and it’s helped a lot of people. AA helped me before I even picked up my first drink, because my father got sober when I was 11 years old. So I am no AA hater, but I’m seen that way because I like to be realistic about some of the stuff we need to be realistic about.

0:18:07 Bob: So AA, in spite of God running the show, doesn’t fix certain populations of people. There’s segments of the mentally ill, they thought they were psychotic in the 40s. And a proper… Silkworth called them psychopaths, and probably sociopaths would be the most accurate description. And with any area of mental illness, the serious ones, especially like schizophrenia. So there were some doctors in Saskatchewan, we’ve got a Canadian connection. It’s a long way from where I am. I’m closer to John than I am to Saskatchewan, I’m just east of Toronto. But so these doctors were finding there was a high-incidence of alcoholism among schizophrenics. And they started having AA meetings at the clinic and a few of these people got better, but the relapse rate was high and the percentage was lousy compared to normal patients in the hospital, so they started to treat these patients with LSD, and they did better.

0:19:19 Bob: And so, Bill was hearing about this early 50s, and he’s going, “We’re AA, I don’t think we want to get involved in a drug thing.” But he kept hearing more and more about success. So anyway, in August 1956, Bill Wilson tried LSD for the first time to see what it was like, and he found it was very similar to his Towns Hospital spiritual experience. Which didn’t take place in Towns Hospital, but minor incidentals of Bill’s story telling. So yeah. So he got all enthusiastic about it, but there was a second side effect, as he found for periods of time after he took LSD, his depression was relieved. So the official story is, “Oh. Bill, he wasn’t a drug taker. He took LSD in a laboratory setting.” Absolutely true the first time, also true some of the other instances. But there was LSD use in people’s houses, and they were hipsters, and kind of on the leading edge. It wasn’t like, “Let’s get high,” it was like, “Let’s do this mental experimentation and stuff.”

0:20:32 Bob: But it relieved his depression. There’s various accounts of when he stopped using LSD. The absolute minimum one was three years, and it’s way more likely that it was closer to eight years that he used it. So there was more to it than just experimentation to help other alcoholics, LSD helped Bill Wilson. So he kept taking it for quite some time, until the grief… He was getting too much grief about the whole thing. And some of the people thought it was a good idea, thought it was a terrible idea. And then of course in the 60s, LSD became something else other than what it had been. It was a lab experiment in the 50s. So I’m a 60s hippy, so there was a lot of LSD when I was at the University of Toronto in the late 60s and early 70s. And I didn’t take any. I don’t know, it scared me for some reason. But yeah, that’s a quick version of the LSD story.

0:21:24 John: And Bob, wasn’t there something else he was into? Like, was it vitamin B or something like that?

0:21:28 Angela: Niacin.

0:21:29 John: Niacin. Is that what it was?

0:21:31 Bob: Yeah. So Ernie Kurtz, the great AA historian. His Harvard University PhD thesis became Not God, which 41 years later is still the classic AA history. And I think this new William Schaberg book goes in that category, because of the phenomenal level of research, the detail. It’s kind of inarguable, whether you like it or not. So Ernie did that kind of research, came up with his book. And he said, “Bill Wilson went from a passion for drinking alcohol, to a passion for helping other alcoholics.” And I believe that, and I’ve written a lot of bad stuff about Bill Wilson. But he’s a two-sided character, and he definitely bent over backwards to help alcoholics. That’s on his good side, and yeah, so that’s undeniable. And Kurtz said, “Sometimes his judgment about that wasn’t too good.”

0:22:40 John: Just his eagerness to help other people, just went too far?

0:22:45 Bob: Well, it could lead him too. It led him to passions. Like after LSD, or kind of those two overlapped, he thought Niacin, this vitamin thing, was going to be a cure. And there’s somebody that didn’t believe in the Big Book process as much as some of the fundamentalists that run meetings in my neighborhood. They think it solves everything, and Bill Wilson was still looking. That tells me something. Bill Wilson was still looking, AA does not have the total answer.

0:23:15 John: Well, that’s funny. I read in a book somewhere that Bill Wilson, who wrote the 12 Steps, actually didn’t work the 12 Steps. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But it probably hasn’t worked in the way that… In the sense that… Like I was taught to do it when I was new and coming up in AA, in my traditional home group many years ago.

0:23:36 Angela: You mean you didn’t like… You don’t think Bill underlined in red, and… [chuckle]

0:23:41 John: No. I honestly think that… Well, and Bob you correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that when Bill… If you asked Bill about the steps, I bet you that he wasn’t thinking of them in terms of all of them requiring actual physical work. Except for maybe the steps where you write, and so forth. But I think he wrote those steps as a description of an experience.

0:24:06 Bob: Well anyway, Bill Wilson was a visionary, and there were no 12 Steps in 1934, so Ebby didn’t take them through 12 Steps. There’s no 12 Steps in Oxford Group literature, there’s nothing like that. There are some practices like confession and inventory sharing, that sort of thing. Helping others. So absolutely, AA came from the Oxford group. But there were no 12 Steps until Bill Wilson sat down and wrote them in 1938, in December. And he described what he did. He said, “He sat down and said, ‘Okay, we do inventory or whatever.’ Let me break them down a little more. So there’s no loopholes that slippery alcoholics like John S, and Bob K, and Angela B can slip out of, give them an excuse.” So the 12 Steps were Bill Wilson’s best vision of moving forward.

0:25:05 Bob: Here’s more mythology in the book. Here are the steps we took, page 59 or whatever. They didn’t all take those steps. If I recovered in Akron, Ohio in 1937 by turning my life over to Jesus Christ, I didn’t go and re-recover after Bill Wilson wrote the steps, and did it his way. Apparently, Ann Smith, when she heard… First heard about the 12 Steps, she said, “What 12 Steps?” [laughter] So if there had been 12 Steps, it would have been written somewhere. It would have been in letters, and, “How’s your Akron people doing with the 12 Steps? We got New York people going through the 12 Steps.” There was none of that. And Bill was… Bill I see a bit like Moses. He led other people more than he was able to help himself. There, it’s back to the depression thing.

0:26:09 Bob: Bill didn’t do a serious inventory until he met with a priest, Father Ed Dowling in 1940, and they became buddies, and he became… Dowling became Wilson’s spiritual mentor and he did self-examination and stuff. I don’t think Dr. Bob ever did an inventory. He went running out making amends. I believe that story to be true the day after the drunken surgery. And… But you know these guys… Now here’s where the Big Book contradicts itself. So here are the steps we took the first hundred that were actually a far smaller number. Here are the steps we took, and then rarely have we seen a person fail. Well, just wait a few more months, all kinds of them failed. So if, they either… The rarely have we seen a person fail, that thoroughly followed our path. The path followers were the early guys. So, here are the steps we took, which in a lot of cases they didn’t take them. The Jim Burwell story, second edition of the book. “Oh, once I moved to Philadelphia in 1941, yeah, I figured I’d better do a four-step inventory because I was taking newcomers, teaching them AA, and I hadn’t done it myself.” So he was one of the “here are the steps we took” guys, but they didn’t all take the steps. They didn’t all do the same thing. So they oversold the unanimity. If you think Dr. Bob and Jim Burwell, the atheist, did the same thing, you know, I got a COVID virus vaccine for you.


0:27:46 John: We have a caller Bob. Let’s take this phone call and see if somebody has a question for you. Hello, how you doing?

0:27:54 Gail: Hi, this is Gail L.

0:27:56 John: Hey Gail.

0:27:57 Gail: From California. And I might have just missed you talking about it, but I always thought that originally weren’t there six steps, and how did it go from six steps to 12 steps, and would we have been better off with the first six [laughter] just making it simple? Why did they pick 12?

0:28:18 John: So why is that Bob? Why’d they go from six to 12?

0:28:22 Bob: Yeah, so this is an interesting one. This is one of the most common stories that got messed up a bit like a telephone tag. And so after AA was up and going, in the 1950s they asked Bill, “Like what were you doing before… What were you doing in the 30s before there was 12 steps?” So he marked down six steps that they took, but those weren’t… The Oxford Group didn’t have a six step process. So that got kind of morphed into these were the Oxford Group steps, and they were kind of Oxford Group practices, but Oxford Group didn’t have a step that said, “Admit you’re licked, powerless over alcohol”. They didn’t have that, so that came from someplace else. And then Earl Treat, who was a big Chicago… Early guy getting Chicago going in late 30s, he wrote a version that appeared in his personal story, and he also was a second edition guy, not in the first edition, and he had, “Here’s more or less what Dr. Bob had me do in 1938,” or whenever it was. So that became that the Oxford Group had six steps, but they didn’t really though, the Oxford Group didn’t have steps.

0:29:42 Bob: But what were the alcoholics doing when they were under the Oxford Group influence? They were doing something along the lines of those steps, and then Bill Wilson expanded that when he wrote the 12 Steps, and steps like six and seven, and instead of doing a confession, or instead of doing amends in nine, make a list of amends in eight, a lot of steps became two, four and five were merged together, six and seven, eight and nine, and you can even say 10 and 11 are somewhat attached. Yeah, so that’s some of the morphing of… But if enough people say it in enough meetings, people think the Oxford Group had six tenets, and if you’re on Facebook, write it as tenants T-E-N-A-N-T-S. [laughter] So, another boo-boo. 

0:30:43 John: But that wasn’t really the case, that… It wasn’t…

0:30:45 Bob: Good question though. It was a good question, I guess.

0:30:48 John: No it was just like they did certain things, they probably… What? Well, they admitted they had a problem, they prayed about it, they made amends, they did those things, and I guess they just afterwards thought about it. So what did we do?

0:31:02 Bob: And sharing was big. Don’t hide this stuff. We used to have a famous prominent speaker when I was a newcomer a long time ago, and he was one of the old guys, and he’d say, “Our secrets keep us sick,” and that’s been said all over North American AA by different people that our secrets keep us sick. And I was a real secret keeper, especially at the end of my drinking, because I was ashamed of a lot that was going on, and God forbid I should tell anybody, it’s embarrassing. And instead, Alcoholics Anonymous, because there’s people like me, we make it very easy to confess to each other, and there is absolute psychological benefit to that stuff.

0:31:50 Angela: Yeah. Well if we don’t have another caller, a thing that made me think of, particularly shame and stuff, is women in AA, particularly mothers, who admit that they have a drinking problem, I’m not in that category, but a lot of my friends are, that that’s one of the most shameful things in our society is to be a mom with an addiction or alcoholism. And so, maybe you could share a little bit about some of the women, the first women in AA and their experiences, like one or two, that you can think of.

0:32:27 Bob: Now, so, a great question again. This is… I did a… My book stemmed out of some, essentially history essays, I was writing on different people for AA Agnostica back in seven or eight years ago. So I wrote an essay that ended up as a chapter in the book and it was called, “Marty Mann and the Early Women of AA.” Bill Wilson told the story that Marty Mann was the first woman to get long-term sobriety. And she wasn’t. It was Sylvia Kay from Chicago, sobriety date of September ’39. Marty Mann started coming around April ’39, but she had acknowledged slips. There’s a lot written about Marty Mann. She went on to become a famous advocate for treatment of alcoholism. It’s not a moral failing. It’s a disease entity or there’s physical elements to the problem.

0:33:34 Bob: So early women of AA are interesting. They were either from the upper classes or from the lower classes. Maybe because of the shaming, middle class women didn’t come and admit they’re alcoholics, but some wives of executives showed up. And there was a woman, Jane S., who got about a year of sobriety. She was a wife of a New York stock executive. And yeah, then there was in the “Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers,” there was the Indian waitress. And I guess she was so offensive, the wives wouldn’t even let her come to the house and the meetings. And so far as stigma, the good news is there has probably in the history of mankind, never been less stigma against alcoholics than there is today, but that’s not to say there’s none. And there is more stigma against women than there is against men. In 2020, that’s true. In 1935, that was true. And it was far worse then. At least some people are coming. And I get the shame of mommy… The wine drinking mommy. A lot of those people end up in AA and others don’t.

0:35:00 John: Oh, we got another caller.

0:35:00 Angela: Yeah, different expectations.

0:35:03 John: Let’s take this call. I’m going to take this call. See who’s got… Hello, how are you doing?

0:35:09 Jay: Hey, how are you guys doing?

0:35:10 John: Good.

0:35:10 Jay: It’s very good so far, I’m enjoying it.

0:35:2 John: Good…

0:35:12 Jay: My name’s Jay.

0:35:14 John: Hey Jay.

0:35:14 Jay: Jay B. I’m from Tennessee. I was wondering… I had… When I was new… Hey, how’s it going? When I was new, I had a lot of trouble with sponsors, and it seems people vary on how much importance they put on that. In the book it just sounds like someone to guide you through the steps. But I think somehow it’s morphed into someone who… Some people have sponsors that tell them everything to do in their lives. So I was wondering if sometime during AA’s evolvement, that role the sponsors take. Thanks.

0:35:47 John: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you for calling. So Bob, what about sponsorship? And how has it changed over the years?

0:35:51 Bob: Yeah. I’m going to talk about this a bit. It’s a little outside my area of expertise. But here’s the interesting thing about AA. When there was AA in three cities, every city operated differently. So there was no McDonalds franchise and the brown rug and whatever. They all operated differently. And so the sponsorship… There’s no pattern of that. The book was written to replace sponsors. Yeah. And sponsors don’t like that. I’m on Big Book thumpers. I go there to get materials and write the essays. And I get a kick out of making one guy, the head guy there, I make his brain explode about once a month, which is kind of fun. I have that nasty side to me. I’m not as nice as you think.

0:36:47 Bob: So some sponsors… And let’s face it, alcoholics have got low self-esteem. When I become a sponsor and start pushing somebody around, you see that guy’s self-esteem go way up. So the other thing that thumpers do by looking down at Twelve and Twelve-ers or agnostics or meeting makers… An old way to get help esteem is, “Yeah, you know I’m a drunk, but I’m not as bad as that guy. And I go up a few notches by putting somebody down.” In AA, we do it in groups. And AA has a lot of sub-groups. And if I’m with the cool sub-group, whatever it is, and I look down and we’re smarter than the other people, or doing it better or whatever. But sponsors could get carried away. That’s a common thing. I’ve seen people tell people what to eat for breakfast. And it’s really way beyond what the thing is intended to be.

0:37:44 Angela: Yeah. Wasn’t the original sponsorship to actually get into a meeting? So was it included and all of that stuff happened with the baseball player, and…

0:37:58 Bob: You did not look it up on the internet to find out where the nearest meeting to my house was. And a lot of people were approached in hospitals. So Dr. Bob, of course, who was a physician, he had access to a couple of hospitals. And then once his reputation got resuscitated, other doctors would say, “Hey, I’ve got a guy over here that could use what you guys are selling. Why don’t you come over and talk to him?” And they talked to people that start now with going to a meeting. And in another era, well, you got interviewed before you went to meetings and you were in the hospital for the five-day detox. And AA members would come and talk to you. And if they didn’t think you were serious enough, they wouldn’t take you. So Angela, before we started mentioning Jim Burwell… Jim Burwell never would have gotten sober in Ohio. They would have tossed him. They wouldn’t have tolerated him. And Jim Burwell ended up sober 36 years when he died, the most famous atheist, agnostic did a lot to pave the doorway, the door, the route for people like me to survive an AA with the small changes they were able to get.

0:39:15 John: Why wouldn’t he have made it in Ohio? ,

0:39:19 Bob: Because Dr. Bob was, “God, God, God.” He had a nun telling him to calm down on God, God.


0:39:28 Bob: A nun is telling him, “Ease up a bit, Bob.” He wasn’t a… Bob, he wasn’t a God as you understand him. Clarence Snyder, the famous Cleveland founder, he’s talking about his first… A beautiful biography by his sponsee Mitchell K, “How it Worked”. Brilliant book. And so there’s Clarence telling us how it was from 1938 on, and he got Jesus bombed at his first couple of meetings and guys handing brochures, and you know, Jesus-ey stuff and let’s kneel down and pray together. And Jim Burwell would have reacted then, and they would have said, “Fine, get out.”

0:40:13 John: Yeah, yeah.

0:40:14 Bob: Not as inclusive as the theory.

0:40:16 John: Right. When Angela was asking about women in AA, I got an email today that I think you would find interesting, Bob, because it was written by somebody who was inspired by an article that you wrote on AA Beyond Belief, and it happens to be the grandson of Florence Rankin. And he writes that, “I am a grandson of Florence Rankin, who was questionably, the first female member of AA, and had her story ‘A Feminine Victory’ published in the first edition in The Big Book. I have been clean and sober and an AA member for 33 years. Sobriety date is 4/30/87. I’m 71 years old and have never met Florence, but have a limited bit of history passed from my mom to me. Flo was her nickname and she died in 1943, five years before my birth. I read Bob K’s March 17th, 2019, article in AA Beyond Belief that was forwarded to me by a friend. Though I’m not religious, I feel a connection to Florence. I also encouraged my non-drinking wife at 30 years old to drink, and drugs. That was nice. And she, too, became an alcoholic, got sober in AA, and so far stayed sober for 25 years. If there were a guardian angel or whatever, I would have to say that Flo was looking out for me and was instrumental through the program and getting me cleaned up.” How about that?

0:41:46 Bob: Yeah, it’s good. Florence was probably the second woman in AA to get a reasonable amount of sobriety, like a year. And she had a couple of relapses, and then when the book was printed, she had a year, or close to a year. So A Feminine Victory and the sad thing is the victory didn’t last very long. She was probably drinking again while the ink was drying on the Big Books, as early as April ’39. And she had moved down to Washington and so a smaller support group there, and she got a boyfriend of a newcomer. We’re still… It’s old school advice. Don’t get any new relationships your first year. But yeah, she hooked up with a newcomer. He got drunk and she got drunk. What I could tell and I don’t know, when you go research somebody like Florence, there was no biography to go read and shorten it down to an essay, like I could do with Marty Mann. There’s a 400 page book on Marty Mann. So Florence we’re working a lot with her story and then there’s a little bit in “Pass It On”, the AA conference approved literature. The kind we’re allowed to read, Angela. Burn those other books.

0:43:13 Bob: So from her story, her Big Book story, it’s evident to me and from a little of the other “Pass It On” history, she seemed pretty neurotic. Most of us arrive here with some sort of issues besides drinking, issues that maybe propel us to drinking in a self-medicating manner. And neurotic is one of them, I think. I don’t know what percentage of AA members who’ve diagnosed neurotic, but it’s higher than the regular population. And the rest of us, we have that and it might not be at a diagnosable level, but we’re nervous. I was a toe tapper under the table, 60 years ago at the kitchen table my father said, “Stop flipping your knee.” I was some version of ADHD or whatever.

0:44:06 John: Bob, we have another call.

0:44:07 Bob: LDS For Angela.

0:44:10 John: Hello, How you doing?

0:44:11 Bob: You can tell us to go to church, John.

0:44:13 John: Hello.

0:44:16 Hillary: Hi.

0:44:16 John: Hi.

0:44:17 Hillary: This is Hillary from New York.

0:44:20 John: Hi, Hillary.

0:44:21 Hillary: Bob, can you talk a little bit about Tom Power Senior and the writing of the Twelve and Twelve, and Wilson’s part in that?

0:44:39 Bob: Yeah. I know, Hillary. I spoke to her at a New York meeting. Hillary is an interesting woman. I’m on Facebook a lot, and I know Hillary from Facebook, from about eight or nine years. Anyway there was a psycho-therapist called Jayles in one of these groups. And she was kind of a Jungian, so she was an expert in Carl Jung. And she said one day, “Jung was an eccentric genius, an eccentric genius” and he was eccentric. And Hillary is a bit of an eccentric genius, so they’re the same thing.

0:45:17 Bob: So Bill’s writing the Twelve and Twelve. He’s been stomping around the country trying to sell the traditions, he’s convinced they’re important and he’s getting, “Nah.” He’s getting a mediocre reaction. So, he figures, “Well, we’ll jazz up the book with some… People are interested in the steps and we’ll write some more philosophical stuff about the background.” But anyway, he’s in a depression. And so, when they wrote the Big Book, they had sort of writing sessions. And this is in Schaberg’s book in some detail. So they’d have brainstorming sessions, Hank, Bill and Ruth. Bill would be the principal writer, but they’d make suggestions, they’d toss it out, he’d go home and write some stuff, they’d tear it all apart the next day. So the Twelve and Twelve got written like that. This is not common information but people will hear that Tom P. Senior was an editor of the Twelve and Twelve. Well, I think, and I can’t prove it, but he was much more than an editor. I think he wrote large chunks of it.

0:46:29 Bob: The Twelve and Twelve was a very inconsistent book. Between 1939 and the early 50s, Bill Wilson had liberalized a lot, we read that in the letters. In the Twelve and Twelve, there’s some religious ranting in there that is worse than what we see in the Big Book, to the secularist ear and to the non-traditionalist ear. And, so I think Tom Powers wrote big parts of the Twelve and Twelve. There was another woman involved called Betty Love. And so the Twelve and Twelve is like a book that was written by a committee. There’s some brilliant stuff in there and there’s some terrible… There’s anti… There’s seven deadly sins, and that’s more religious stuff than in the Big Book. And then in other places, it’s depressing. If you read that in a kind of monotone voice you go, “Oh Jesus. I’m going to shoot myself.”

0:47:31 Bob: So, I believe Tom Powers wrote a lot of it. Tom Powers was… He was a reformed drinker, he was a reformed womanizer, he was all over Bill to stop messing around with other women. And Bill said, “Yeah well, good idea but I can’t.” And so, Powers eventually left AA and formed All Addictions Anonymous, but I think he wrote a big part of the Twelve and Twelve and that is totally unprovable. But the kind of logic of it comes together.

0:48:03 John: That’s interesting, I never heard that before. That there was someone else.

0:48:08 Hillary: Awesome. Thanks BK.

0:48:11 Bob: Thank you, Hillary.

0:48:13 John: Yeah, thank you for calling Hillary, I appreciate that. Well, that was nice. It’s fun to get these callers. We’ve had about like over 35 people in the chat room all night long. You’re very popular Bob. In fact, you have a friend out there, from Brighton, England, who says hello to you.

0:48:27 Bob: Oh yeah, he’s the coolest.


0:48:30 John: How about that. So I was going to ask you, when you said that kind of going back to the beginning, that you said that Bill’s “white light” experience wasn’t in Towns Hospital, where was it?

0:48:43 Bob: Okay, so towards the end of November, there’s the famous Ebby visit described earlier in the story. That’s best described as late November. And so that’s when he had the “white light” experience. It’s right there in his own… There’s a hand-written second version of Bill’s story and there it is. So the cool wind and all that stuff, it happens in his house two weeks before he quits drinking. So on December 7th, he meanders down to the Calvary Mission. Ebby had said, “Come on down and check it out.” That’s where Ebby was living at the time. And they’d have the religious services and free food and a flop for the kind of homeless, no money guys. And so, yeah, he went down there and made an altar call, and it doesn’t say so in the conference-approved literature, but I’m pretty sure he probably said a few kind words about Jesus Christ. And still didn’t stop drinking, went home. By the time he got home, he was pretty sober. Talked to Lois, told her all about it, it was all enthusiastic, she got enthusiastic.

0:50:05 Bob: The next day he got up as some of us do and took a couple of shots to take the edge off. And Lois found him passed out when she got home from work. So it was a few more days until he went to Towns Hospital. But the spiritual experience taking place in Towns Hospital fits better, you know? He doesn’t keep drinking, it’s miraculous, never drank again, so suits that element of the story. And then besides that, he has Ebby going through the process with him, such as it was at the time.

0:50:39 John: Oh, okay, so it just makes a better story.

0:50:44 Bob: Oh. And fits the narrative of what they’re selling. Take these steps and this will happen, not take these steps and you’ll only drink for two more weeks.

0:50:53 John: Right, right.


0:50:57 John: And you know in that book, that Schaberg wrote, what… Didn’t Hank Parker play a huge role in putting the Big Book together?

0:51:05 Bob: So here’s the thing that’s understandable. So I’m a big player in getting AA’s book done, a book about quitting drinking for alcoholics and I go back to drinking. You know, I’m not going to be around when the history gets written about me, so Hank essentially got written out. His role was minimized, and is one of the main points of Schaberg’s book. And somebody like me is… I’m not totally humble about this, I’ve read like 40 or 50 books and internet stuff and I know a lot about AA history, and when I read Schaberg’s book, I just kept learning stuff I didn’t know. I didn’t know how huge Hank’s role was. Hank did editing. All we say in AA, “Oh, Hank’s a terrible writer. Look at his story, he was almost illiterate.” Hank did tons of editing of the personal stories and stuff.

0:51:20 John: Wow. We’ve got another caller. Let’s see who this is. This is fun, it’s like, ask… Stop the expert. Hello, how you doing?

0:52:18 Kevin: Hi. 

0:52:20 John: Who’s this?

0:52:21 Kevin: Doing good.

0:52:26 John: Hello?

0:52:27 Kevin: Hi, yeah, this is Kevin from Salem, Massachusetts.

0:52:31 John: Hey Kevin, how you doing? Thanks for calling.

0:52:34 Kevin: Good. Thanks for taking my call, I appreciate it. So, yeah, I’ve read Ernie’s book “Not God” . It’s pretty enlightening. But aside from that, I’ve been sober since 1986 and I was introduced to the program in 1976, but I’ve read the Big Book an awful lot. And I’ve researched different aspects of the book, but a lot of it is very, very helpful. And there’s certain sections of it that I am very suspect about. And I don’t know if you ever heard of Big Book Steps groups, but I’m sort of going through that process right now, and you know, these people seem to live and breathe every single word that’s in the book. And I try to explain to them that it just doesn’t add up in a lot of areas. And one of the examples I try to show them is in the carpet slipper who retired at 55 after 25 years of sobriety and out come the slippers.

0:53:49 John: Right.

0:53:50 Kevin: And I said, “Just try to do the math on this one guy.


0:53:55 Kevin: Just sit and do the math on this guy.” I mean he’s… At this age, and it’s way back in the early… The late 1800s and up to this point, and I’m like, “This is like, what do you call it? A parable of progression, this is not an actual story.” And they get mad at me. But just wanted to know what you guys’ thoughts are on those aspects of the alcoholism and how they try to point things out. But to my mind, it seems as though that guy with the carpet slippers is more of a parable, than an actual story. So if you do the math, it’s crazy. So anyway, a lot of good stuff is going on on the podcast.

0:54:49 John: Oh thanks.

0:54:50 Kevin: And I’m really, really excited about this whole thing. My wife just found this and she says, “You might like it, you do the history.” So I’m into it.

0:55:00 John: Cool, well thank you. Thank you so much for calling and thank you for listening. I love doing these live streams on Friday, this is just so much fun and it’s a lot of fun to watch the audience grow to 43 people in there. I keep counting. So Bob, what do you think about that? Are those… Are those parables in the Big Book or are they…

0:55:16 Bob: This is a good one. I just want to say quickly, I am no Orange Paper’s guy. I’ve been sober for 28-and-a-half years and I got sober in conventional AA. There were no agnostic meetings, and I worked around it and I’m a believer… I call the Big Book a mixture of the weird and wonderful. And that’s kind of what the caller was getting at. So, sober since ’86, has some appreciation of it. I think there’s a lot of good psychology underneath the religious language. And, yeah my late father will be 59 years sober in 11 days, so was around a long time. And here’s where some of the… Here’s where… He helped me a bit with some of the mythology.

0:56:13 Bob: In 1991, I asked him, I was at this hardcore meeting like something what the caller was describing. And they made it sound like, “Boy, we’re just newcomers, in the old days we’d just smack them down with a two by four.” They used to say. “Sat them down, told them… ” And of course, here we’re back to the self-esteem thing, these people seeing themselves as tellers of the truth. So, this mythology of the old days gets built up. So my father got sober in ’61, his sponsor lived across the street, got sober in ’51. So I said, “Was AA different in the old days?” And he said a line that I will repeat over and over again till the day I die. He said, “There are preachers now and there were preachers then.” And he says, “My sponsor Harry H. Never raised his voice to me.” So all the tough talk, yeah, some people did that and they’re still doing it, and other people talk to people like they’re civilized human beings.

0:57:18 Bob: So Dr. Bob did not get talked to and whacked with a two by four in the iconic meeting in Henrietta Seiberling’s house. Just quickly on the… And great one to bring up the carpet slippers guy. So there’s a theory, there was… You know I’m big on the Big Book being influenced by Richard Peabody’s book “The Common Sense of Drinking” published in 1931. There’s chunks of that that are taken out, almost without modification and just plunked into the Big Book, “Once an alcoholic, always alcoholic”, “We have found that halfway measures are of no avail.” Hmm, that sounds familiar, didn’t change that much.

0:58:07 Bob: So, in Peabody’s book, there is apparently somebody who came within the realm of Peabody who worked as a lay therapist, helped him beat his alcoholism problem. And there was a guy, and this was a story in Peabody’s book and he had stayed sober for about five or six years. Focused on business, distracted himself. Then retired, got out the carpet slippers, went to Florida and went back to drinking. Well, Bill Wilson… Well, if the guy stays sober five years, let’s make it 25, then it will be a better story. And Bill Wilson, jazzed up stories, and was he a liar? Well, kind of, but he was more of an exaggerator. I’ve known, in bars, storytellers and I love it. And you know they’re jazzing up a story because it’s better than it was last year.

0:59:03 John: Right. And that was kind of the tradition he came from, too, from his upbringing. Like you said, he came from a storyteller tradition. So that’s just the way he was and the way that book was written. What I was thinking about, when you were asking about the Big Book was the contradictions in it. I come from a background where the group that I… My home group for many years was one of those that latched on to every single word of the Big Book, and I just thought it was just “the book”, the only book you needed, and…

0:59:39 Angela: Divinely inspired.

0:59:40 John: Yeah, and we just kind of overlooked some of the inconsistencies and contradictions, but they’re certainly in there. It’s kind of funny.

0:59:48 Kevin: Yeah, Oh yeah.

0:59:50 John: But I think that…

0:59:52 Kevin: By the way, thanks for reminding me that it’s Friday. I forgot, I’m in lockdown.

0:59:57 John: I know.

0:59:58 Kevin: When you said Friday, I’m like, “Is it Friday? Today is Friday?” But yeah.

1:00:01 John: I know, isn’t that weird, it’s like one day is every other day.

1:00:06 Kevin: Just emphasize it. At the time of the writing, if this guy was 55, 25 years sober, you gotta go back 25 years and he’s so old, it’s like, “Come on. This is too obvious.”

1:00:20 John: Yeah.

1:00:21 Kevin: That’s just one example.

1:00:22 John: Yeah, no. But well…

1:00:23 Kevin: I appreciate you guys taking the time.

1:00:27 John: Well, thank you for calling, I appreciate it. It was nice of you. And we’re up in an hour.

1:00:30 Kevin: I’ll be back next Friday.

1:00:31 John: Hey cool, thank you. So we’re up in an hour. Bob, is there anything we should cover, that you would like to cover that we haven’t talked about?

1:00:40 Bob: Just, yeah, I guess I’ll do some pimping. I’ve written two new books. We haven’t gotten to do the technical yet. Spent a whole winter just editing and proofreading. And I just, I can get pretty picky on that stuff, and I go, “Here’s the final proofreading for the third time.” Then I change two things, so I say, “Well, you’d better go over it again.” And then, when this COVID thing hit, I haven’t felt… My concentration hasn’t been up to par, but… And then I felt like recreation, rather than work. And so book stuff like that is work. But I’ve written a biographical fiction. Probably about 400 pages on Bill Wilson, where I follow the history very closely, but like in biographical fiction, there’s conversation. I have conversations between him and Hank and he’s definitely a womanizer in my book.

1:01:43 Bob: I don’t get the details of that. I just have him tossing it out there like… And the famous motorcycle trip, he only drank a few times. It was when he was exploring the companies, and he worked on a farm for a while. And I said, “You know, then we went down South and I got in a little trouble with drinking in Florida and Havana. And in Havana there was a woman involved, but I was able to calm Lois down and tell her how drunk I was.” And so, yeah, I didn’t do 50 shades of Bill, but yeah, a pretty interesting book I think. What I like… You know, there’s 10 biographies of Bill, I’d never seen a historical fiction, so this will be a first of. And I hope It’ll make some money because I’m not making any money fixing golf slices, these days.

1:02:36 John: Right. It sounds like an interesting book. I look forward to it coming out.

1:02:39 Bob: Yeah, the other one is just a pre-history. There’s a lot of prehistory in my book, “The Key Players in AA History”, and I just went into things like Lois’ family religion, Swedenborgianism. Anyway, incredible similarities to some of AA’s letting go of self, and once you get into these quirky Christian spiritual stuff, I mean, there’s a lot of overlap, new thought and whatever. But we don’t hear much about Bill… Or that Lois’ family. Lois’ family was very religious, and Bill was a big fan of her family because he’s at home with the old people, my age, when he’s a 10 year old kid. So here he is, a teenager, going hanging out at Lois’ place, where they had interesting intellectual conversations and they sat around the dinner table for three hours and said more than just “pass the salt”, that’s what he was getting at home, with the grandparents.

1:03:42 John: Well, it was nice Bob, having you here. And Angela once again, it’s always fun to talk with you, and thank you for being… Spending another Friday with me here. Just, this is really a nice time for me. I always look forward to Fridays and it’s amazing to me how quickly they get here. And thank all of you that have been listening to these podcasts, and are watching these live streams on YouTube and making these comments in the chat room and chatting with each other, and the occasional troll that comes by. It’s a lot of fun. I did throw that one guy out. There was somebody there trolling us today, Bob. He wasn’t saying some nice things about you, and I said… I let him go with it for a little while, but I thought, “Okay, he is a troll. We do have to do something.”

1:04:28 Bob: Yeah.

1:04:29 Angela: Oh man, I thought he was removed by the power of Gail.

1:04:34 John: Well, what I did… I was watching him go on, he was going on really criticizing Bob’s book. And it was kind of rude, to do that while Bob’s here talking.

1:04:41 Angela: Yeah. Yeah, that was definitely. 

1:04:45 Bob: Anyway, thanks to both of you, and thanks to the people who phoned in. There were some pretty good questions.

1:04:49 John: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

1:04:51 Angela: Yeah, it was great. Thank you.

1:04:53 John: So here we go, that’s it. That’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. And another Friday’s day… What is it called? Sober distancing. That’s right, sober distancing.

1:05:03 Angela: Sober distancing.
1:05:05 John: Thanks everybody. We’ll be back again real soon, and again, I really appreciate this opportunity and spending this time with you. Thanks a lot.